Paris with Tweens & Teens
Your teenagers will probably love the museum of anatomical oddities located within the École Nationale Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort in a suburb of Paris (about 50 minutes from Notre Dame). If you are not afraid to get a little dark, the Musée Fragonard is a fascinating visit for the less-squeamish. Essentially, an 18th-century doctor would turn animal and human bodies inside out for educational purposes, his subjects now make up the bulk of this collection. There’s a man riding a horse—both flayed open—as well as various animals with their insides on display.The cherry on the cake: the museum also contains a substantial collection of monstrosities like Siamese-twin lambs, a two-headed calf, a ten-legged sheep, and a colt with one huge eye. Your children will be mesmerized, you’ll likely feel ill.
One of Paris’s weirdest attractions, the Catacombs are a favorite among big kids who appreciate a stroll through the city’s old mineshaft-turned-mass grave. The tunnels are lined with the bones of millions of citizens who were laid to rest here by King Louis XVI (before having his own head chopped off). You need to arrive early in the morning if you want to be one of the first in line, otherwise, try after lunch. (A wait is unavoidable, but it will be worth it.) Kids seem to not suffer from claustrophobia but you might feel not-so-great down there. My advice: don’t try to tackle the Musee Fragonard and the Catacombs on the same day.
While you may not be in the mood for food, teenagers seem to be perpetually hungry, so Uber over to Le Kong, a futuristic Japanese restaurant decorated by Philippe Starck at the top of the Kenzo building. Perfect spot at sunset. The Ellsworth also has incredible food in a perfectly understated country-chic decor. It’s run by a charming American duo who’ve mastered simple, delicious food: Gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, the best fried-chicken in Paris, apple beignets…the menu changes all the time. Great option for brunch with the kids on Sundays.
Then there’s Georges on the rooftop of the Centre Pompidou. This is a Costes restaurant so the menu is consistently reliable (note that the mashed potatoes are always a hit with kids), but you’re really going for the views—probably the best of all Parisian restaurants, your kids will be amazed.
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Probably not quite as exciting as the Catacombs, the Musée des Egouts is another subterranean world for teens to explore, without any actual dead remains. Ever wonder where all that rain goes? Well, the museum of sewers (it’s wonderful in an odd sort of way) will give you all the answers. Don’t look for a building—there isn’t one—but there is a kiosk on the corner of the bridge that looks like a newsstand, that’s where you can buy tickets and gain access. You’ll take a spiral staircase directly underground and then follow the signs—no guide needed. It is a bit smelly, but this is a storm sewer, not a sewer-sewer, so the smell is OK. There are plaques to read with interesting information about the history of Paris and the sewer system.
After this little trip to the dark side go to L’Oiseau Blanc—one of the most beautiful rooftops of the capital—and have lunch. Do try the l’Envol for dessert, it’s their signature dish.
If the Paris underground is not exactly a point of passion of your teenager, you can always try to impress them with the opposite approach: the excess of light. At the Studio Harcourt you can book a cinematic black-and-white portrait shoot to commemorate their time in the City of Light. Everyone from Brigitte Bardot to Marilyn Monroe has had their photo taken here. In case your kid wants to go into acting, this is the place.
After the shoot, try to convince them to eat frog’s legs at l’Abeille, the restaurant at the Shangri La Hotel. Not happening in a million years? Well, Monsieur Bleu’s terrace has one of the best views of the Eiffel tower. And very good food. Note that on Saturdays and Sundays, Monsieur Bleu offers free babysitting services on the French floor (there’s also an American floor) with a disco for kids on Saturdays and other fun activities on Sundays. My daughter was amazed that the play room was filled with the most stylish children she had ever seen.
Courtesy of parisinfo.com
The lines for the towers of Notre Dame too much for you? The (almost) equally impressive climb—some 300 stairs—to the top of the Sacré Coeur is another perfect way to explore the city while tiring out your kids. At Vespers-time (six in the evening) you might get lucky and hear the mystical voices of the Bénédictines Sisters of the Sacré Cœur of Montmartre. Catholic or not, it is captivating and gives you a time-machine kind of feel back in the 18th century.
Since you went all the way to Montmartre, skip the painters on the Place du Tertre and walk to the Vineyard on rue Saint Vincent instead. La Vigne de Montmartre has not been discovered by too many tourists yet, so it’s still very much a local affair. (But don’t feel intimidated, you are more than welcome to visit.) While the Fête des Vendanges in October is the best time to come, you can visit anytime. Entry to the vineyard has to be arranged through the Montmartre tourist office at Place du Tertre, two minutes from the vineyard.
Le Moulin de la Galette is a fun place to stop for lunch as it is one of the last windmills of Montmartre. A reservation is needed to eat in the garden, which is definitely preferable. In case you and your children like chicken, Le Coq Rico is my favorite place to eat in Montmartre.
For a perfect summer day, take your teenagers to the Piscine Molitor, the prettiest old school swimming pool in Paris (I was about to write in the world but what do I know?), which was renovated and reopened four years ago. There’s swimming, of course, but you can also surprise your teenager with a treatment at The Spa by Clarins or go for drinks or a salad on the rooftop. Pretty views plus pretty Parisians. It’s a members-only kind of place, but you can bypass the rule by booking the Escale Molitor package at the spa (one-hour treatment +access to the pool, hammam, sauna, and gym). Book well in advance.
If you’re big on spas and history, and if your teenager is too, I suggest planning a little day-trip to the Trianon Palace in Versailles: book treatments at the Guerlain Spa, enjoy the beautiful pool, go for a walk in the royal garden, then have a spectacular Michelin Star lunch at Gordon Ramsay au Trianon (ask for the “kitchen table” or for a more relaxed meal go to the veranda). The most enthusiastic can also visit the castle itself—it’s grand, it’s crazy-beautiful, and it’s gigantic. Pack good shoes. I know Parisians are not big on Versailles, but they are wrong! It is only 40 minutes away from the Eiffel Tower and definitely a trip your kid will never forget.
Below, several answers to the most crucial question for teenagers: How to get the Parisian look?
Soeur is the first place I would recommend for teenage girls, then the equally popular Swildens (just know that you will want to buy everything you see for yourself, too) and my personal favorite, Claudie Pierlot. There’s also Yam, the very chic, very fun young-ladies’ line from Bonpoint—I am obviously a huge fan. On the fast-fashion side: Etam, Naf Naf, and Kookai may not be the epitome of quality but your teenage girls will probably have the time of their life rummaging through the racks. Andre is where they’ll find well-priced shoes that look perfect (though usually for no more than one season). Longchamp or Gérard Darel make great bags for young Parisian ladies, even though both brands very much target women of all ages. At Dauphine flea market, let your teen hunt for a perfect 1940’s dress or a very smelly army jacket—pack their spoils in a plastic bag until you cross paths with a dry cleaner. Finally, don’t miss Colette and Merci for some inspiration and to get some seriously cool French decor for their bedrooms.